Gist of HEC Policy on PhD Degree Programs 2021

The revised HEC policy for Ph.D. degree programs allows the students to get direct admission to the Ph.D. programs after completion of the BS degree. The students may complete the Ph.D. degree in 3 to 8 years’ duration and the research dissertation may now also be reviewed by the local experts.

HEC PhD Policy 2021

The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan has announced a new policy “HEC POLICY ON PHD DEGREE PROGRAMS 2021” (HEC PhD Policy 2021) regarding Ph.D. admissions with some notable changes, which is garnering widespread attention from the academic circles as well as students. The policy says that the guidelines provided are only the minimum requirements, and universities are free to establish their own admissions framework that may vary by discipline, provided it satisfies the minimum conditions set forth in the HEC PhD policy 2021. Keeping in view that doctoral studies are intended to be rigorous and demanding, universities need to ensure that entrants to doctoral programs are capable of handling the academic rigor required to complete a Ph.D. degree.

The revised HEC PhD Policy 2021 addresses the two different aspects of the policy implementation. The first one is related to the admission guidelines for the students and the other half discusses the requirements for the universities to launch and run a PhD program. The HEC Policy on PhD Degree Programs 2021 pdf file may be downloaded from HEC website.

The summary of the HEC Policy to launch a new PhD program is available at

The salient features of the HEC Policy on PhD degree programs 2021 are given below:

Effective Implementation Date

The HEC PhD Policy 2021 was intended to be effective from January 1, 2021, however, it will come into effect from Fall 2022 semester. In light of the new policy, all previous policy notifications issued by the HEC will be redundant.

Minimum Qualification required for Admission to PhD program

A major aspect of the HEC PhD Policy 2021 is that the minimum requirement to get admission to a Ph.D. program is at least 16 years’ education (BS/MS/MPhil or equivalent). The universities will have the option to maintain the requirement of M.Phil/MS for admissions to the Ph.D. program.  However, the universities will have to get approval from their respective statutory forums.

Earlier, the minimum qualification required for admission into a PhD program was MS/MPhil or equivalent in the relevant discipline.

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HEC Policy on PhD Degree program

Previous Qualification in a relevant discipline is no more required

It will be a historic event in the history of Pakistan that the previous qualification in the same discipline shall not be required for admission to the Ph.D. program. Therefore, the students with an undergraduate degree can enroll to a Ph.D. program in any subject but for this, the concerned university will have to formulate its own policy and get it approved from its respective statutory forums. This HEC PhD Policy 2021 will ensure that the students have the requisite skills and knowledge in the field of Ph.D. studies, and wherever required additional courses may be assigned to cover the deficiency.

Earlier, the minimum qualification required for admission into a PhD program was MS/MPhil or equivalent qualification in the relevant discipline.

PhD Program Duration

The revised HEC Policy on PhD degree programs 2021 allows the students to complete the Ph.D. program in a minimum of three years and a maximum of eight years’ duration. However, considering the unavoidable circumstances in exceptional cases, the universities may allow further extension of two years but the degree will not be awarded in case the duration exceeds beyond 10 years.

Earlier, the maximum duration to complete the degree requirement was eight years, which was further extendable as per the recommendation of the statutory bodies of the universities. However, the maximum limit was not defined earlier.

Graduate Admission Test/GAT Subject Test

HEC has lifted the mandatory requirement of the GAT Subject Test with the exception of certain science disciplines, at the discretion of the university. HEC has allowed admission on the basis of GRE, or university administered graduate admission test. The policy has also allowed considering the graduate admission test conducted by another university, which was not the case previously.

Earlier, the applicant was required to pass the GAT Subject or GRE exam.

Minimum CGPA requirement for admission to PhD program

According to the revised HEC Policy on PhD degree programs 2021, for admission to a Ph.D. program, a minimum CGPA of 3.0 (out of 4.0 in the semester system) or First Division (in the annual system) in the most recent degree obtained is required, whether such degree was obtained from a Pakistani or foreign university.

There is no change in the CGPA requirement for admission into the PhD program since CGPA 3.0 out of 4.0 was required.

Coursework Requirement for PhD degree

The students of Ph.D. programs shall be required to complete coursework of at least 48 credit hours. In case, the students are admitted on the basis of 18 years of education (MS/MPhil or equivalent) in the same discipline, the university shall define its own criteria according to the discipline and may reduce the coursework requirement up to 50% of the total credit hours requirement of the Ph.D. program.

In terms of total credit hours, the requirement remained the same i.e. for MS/MPhil or equivalent program, the coursework requirement was 30 credit hours, and for Ph.D., it was at least 18 credit hours (MS/MPhil:30 + PhD:18=48). However, the students of MS/MPhil or equivalent program had the choice to complete the degree requirements taking either 6 credit hours thesis or through coursework in lieu of thesis.

Residency Requirement

The students enrolled in the Ph.D. program will be required to spend at least two years in the home country during the period of their PhD studies.

The Residency requirement remains the same since there is no change in the revised policy for it.

PhD Comprehensive Examination

After completion of the coursework, the students of the Ph.D. programs shall be required to pass the comprehensive examination. The student will have only two attempts to pass the test.

The Comprehensive Exam requirement remains the same since there is no change in the revised policy for it.

Research Paper Publication requirement for the award of PhD degree

According to the revised HEC Policy on PhD degree programs 2021, the Ph.D. program students shall be required to publish at least one research paper as the first author during their doctoral studies in an HEC approved Y category (or above) journal for the award of the Ph.D. degree. Click here to see the list of HEC approved Research Journals of social sciences.

Doctoral Dissertation review

In addition to the Ph.D. Committee, the Ph.D. dissertation must be evaluated by at least two external experts who may be either:

  • Pakistan-based Distinguished National Professors, Meritorious Professors, or Tenure Track Professors     OR
  • Ph.D. experts from academically advanced countries (HEC approved) for evaluation of Ph.D. Dissertation. However, if a Ph.D. scholar publishes his or her dissertation research in a peer-reviewed journal that is classified by the HEC as category X or above, the Ph.D. dissertation will only require evaluation by one external expert.

The policy says that the PhD dissertation may now also be reviewed by Pakistani experts, it is not mandatory to send it to foreign experts.

Earlier, it was required that the PhD thesis should be reviewed by the experts of technologically/academically advanced countries.

Award of MS/MPhil or equivalent degree/Early Termination of PhD Degree

The students enrolled in the Ph.D. program may terminate their Ph.D. degree and get an MS/MPhil or equivalent degree if they meet the required standards for the award of MS/MPhil or equivalent degree.

a. Will this policy enhance the research quality?
b. Will this policy support improve the quality of education in Pakistan?
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